South Africa beat Wales to win Plate, but rue loss of World Series lead
It was another case of Groundhog Day for South Africa at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, despite the fact they won some silverware last night. As usual, it wasn't the kind they were looking for.
The Blitzbokke arrived in Hong Kong on top of the HSBC Sevens World Series standings and making confident noises about winning in Hong Kong for the first time ever. In the end, it was the same old story - an early exit from the Cup competition and a prize they didn't want.
Their 19-14 win over Wales in the Plate final would have satisfied the appetite of most teams, but for South Africa it was just another missed opportunity to land the big one.
A 14-7 Cup quarter-final loss to England earlier in the day consigned them to the Plate competition, and although they won, South Africa coach Neil Powell knew it wasn't the trophy they'd been aiming for.
"We wanted to get at least to the Cup semi-final to keep our consistency in the series going, but unfortunately we couldn't do that. The margin between success and failure at this level is so small," Powell said.
"The guys showed a lot of heart to lift themselves and beat a tough Welsh team to win the Plate. We'll try to come back here with a different plan next year. Hopefully, it'll work out next time."
Not getting to the business end of the Cup competition meant South Africa also lost their lead at the head of the World Series standings. New Zealand now top the table on 136 points after their win with South Africa second on 129.
"We're no longer top of the standings but we'll go back to South Africa, see what we did wrong and correct the mistakes in time for the final legs in Glasgow and Scotland," Powell said.
Injuries to key players in the tournament didn't help. They lost influential captain Kyle Brown to concussion after only three minutes in their first game.
On day two they lost two more senior players - Cecil Afrika and Philip Snyman - in the last pool game against Australia. All three were big losses.
"It didn't help that we were hampered by injuries. Going into the play-off stages with only nine fit players is always going to be a big challenge," said Powell.
Powell was a loser here as a player in two Cup finals as well. In 2008, his South African side lost to New Zealand, and in 2009 they came up short against Fiji. Not that it has put him off coming back.
"It's always great to come to Hong Kong despite these losses. We're always trying to do better," the 35-year-old said. "Hopefully, we can learn from this."
It was a case of déjà vu for Wales too, although not on as big a scale this time. The Welsh played brilliantly to get to last year's Cup final and had Fiji on the ropes at half-time, leading 19-0, before finally losing 26-19.
"It's not as bad a loss as last year. Then there was more at stake and we had a big lead. The boys dug in well but we couldn't get the win this year either," Wales captain Lee William, 27, said.
"We had five boys playing from last year's team but we had a lot of injuries so there were a few young boys making their debuts. You always have some regrets when you lose finals, but to play here in this kind of atmosphere is very special."
The game was a tight affair with Jamba Ulengo touching down for South Africa after only 29 seconds.
However, Wales bounced back through Ross Jones who converted his own try. Jason Harries extended the Welsh lead after a driving run up the middle and Jones converted again to put them 14-5 ahead.
But South Africa upped the ante after the break with Kwagga Smith scoring after 35 seconds. Justin Geduld made the conversion to leave his team just two points behind at 14-12. In a tense finale Ulengo grabbed his second try with two minutes left, and Geduld kicked the conversion.